Little Shop of Horrors, Menier Chocolate Factory, London

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It’s one thing talking to your plants, but if your plants start talking to you, you need to beware, particularly if they start to decline H2O in favour of O-positive. That’s the message of this gleefully corny cautionary tale about a blood-guzzling plant that leads its owner from rags to riches and ultimately to ruin.

This popular spoof sci-fi thriller tells the outlandish story of Seymour, a lowly florist’s assistant on Skid Row who becomes slave to a malevolent, man-eating plant. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical is, of course, a splendidly silly take-off of 1950s horror movies, and the parody is played to the hilt here in Matthew White’s exuberant production.

We begin in Mushnik’s Flower Shop. There’s not much call for roses on Skid Row, and so Mr Mushnik’s assistant Seymour polishes the leaves of a dying display plant and dreams of rescuing shop girl Audrey from her nasty boyfriend. But the shop’s fortunes are transformed when Seymour finds a mysterious plant and persuades his boss to put it in the window. As the plant grows, Seymour becomes a celebrity – but only he knows the terrible price of his success.

Much of the fun of the musical lies in the contrast between the grisly story and the jaunty musical numbers. White’s staging relishes this, hurtles through the story and bristles with witty details. There is a juicy performance from Jasper Britton as the sadistic dentist boyfriend; a fine one from Paul Keating as the naïve Seymour and a fabulous one from Sheridan Smith as Audrey. Smith combines delicious comic timing with touching appeal and a sweet voice. But there is a manic quality to the production too: many of the cast work too hard to deliver, which suggests a lack of confidence. They could all afford to let the show breathe a little.

And what of the plant? Artem Limited comes up with several animatronic marvels, from a cute little shoot to a mammoth moving plant that growls “Feed Me” in the voice of Mike McShane. Most perturbing. My 12-year-old son enjoyed the show enormously, but eyed the cactus in his bedroom with new suspicion on his return home.
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